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Friday, May 24, 2013

Goose Island Brewing's Sofie

  • Style: Saison/Belgian style Farmhouse Ale
  • ABV: 6.5%
  • Season: Year Round
  • Color: Hazy, straw yellow with hints of pure gold
  • Head: White 2 1/2 finger head with delicate lacing
  • Aroma: Citrus (lemon, grapefruit and a bit of orange zest), some funk, slight pepper note and champagne yeast.  It smells delicious.
  • Mouthfeel: Light with abundant carbonation
  • Finish: Medium with a dry finish
  • Food friendly: Like most well done Saisons, it pairs well with a great variety of foods.  Try it with lighter summer pasta dishes or as a compliment to a spicy Thai meal.  Serve with a nice variety of cheeses: earthy (Che'rvre), nutty (Gruy√®re) or Pungent (Brie)

Every year for Mother's Day I make my mom Mother's Day Margaritas.  Because nothing really says "I love you, Mom" like tequila and limes.   Usually between the unreliability of the mid price blender and my own incompetence, I make a huge, sticky mess by the time the first round is served.  This past Mother's Day, my mom either had had enough of my hording ice for days as if I was saving up for that cold day in hell everyone keeps promising or else just wanted a bit of a change.  She surprised (read shocked the hell out of me) by requesting that we have some of those "fancy beers" I like instead..  No digging our heavy blender out of storage and spending half an afternoon trying to figure out where we stowed the top last year. (It's probably in with the Tupperware tops.  It's always in with the Tupperware tops.  And I never, ever remember to look in with the Tupperware tops.)  No wondering how many of my margarita glasses will break outside this year (family record?  Three in one dark and  fateful afternoon.)  No cleaning red splotches of ice off the ceiling (long story, but lets just say that it had to do with Tupperware tops.)  A few fancy bottles of beer coming up!

                                                                                                                    There are easier ways of getting a bomber of Sofie home from the store

I decided to go the Belguim style route, because nothing says "Ik hou van he, moeder" like Belgium ales! One of my brothers offered to bring a bottle of North Coast's Brother Thelonious.  Mom loved this beer when we served it earlier in the year, so good call on his part (we don't refer to him as the "golden boy" for nothing.)  The youngest brother and I wanted to crack open one of our homebrew Saisons to see where we were in the conditioning process (needs time.  We'll check again on Father's Day.)   And I already had a bottle of what my family lovingly (and rather simplistically) refers to as "Monk Beer", but is better known to most craft enthusiasts as St. Bernardus Abt 12.  We are not a pretentious sort of crew.  For the final bottle, I grabbed a bomber of Goose Island's Sofie.  It's a farmhouse ale, which is at it's basic, just a Belgium pale ale.  At one point in time, just after dinosaurs roamed the Earth but before the Kardashians did, most farms in the French speaking area of Belgium brewed their own house ale.  Saisons were brewed during the winter months to be consumed during the warmer Summertime.   Because having an unconscious farm hand suffering from heat stroke did absolutely no one any good.  Those beers were lower in ABV back then usually around 3%-3.5% (compared to today's norm of 5%-8%.)     Sofie follows this style, coming in at 6.5% ABV and an IBU of only 20.  It's aged in wine barrels and reminds me of sparkling wine for all intensive purposes.  Dry, slightly citrusy, carbonated and just delicious with a wide variety of foods. 



My Goose Island Brewing;s Sofie  poured a hazy, lemony yellow color.  When the light hit it just right, the hue reminded me of brushed gold.  A white, two and a half finger head formed and settled to a billowy layer for a good portion of the drink, finally ending with a shallow film of bubbles across the beer's surface for the last third of the glass.  Spotty, very delicate lacing crept up the sides of my glass (they don't refer to it as Belgium lacing for nothing.)  I could easily smell the citrus on the nose.  The main note was that of lemon, but I also detected some grapefruit and orange zest as well.  A scan of  Goose Island's website revealed that the Saison was aged with orange zest, but I found the orange note was underplayed on the nose.  Amarillo hops were used in the recipe and it most likely attributed greater to the overall citrus element than the 20% portion of the ale which was aged with the zest.  I could also detect a white pepper note (also easily attributed to the hop choice), a tiny bit of earthy funk and a light champagne yeast quality.  Honestly, while there was a delicacy to the aroma, this one was one of the most delicious smelling Saisons that I've come across in a long time.  A Saison is not the sort of style that you want to clobber you over the head.  A nice nudge on the shoulder is a welcome change in the bigger is better world of American craft beer.  The taste was right on the money too.  The layers of assorted citrus mirrored the nose. I still got more of a lemon quality than the much lauded orange zest note, but all three citrus flavors were still present.  The spice of the white pepper and the ever so minimal earthiness of the funk complimented the other extremely well.  The beer had a light mouthfeel with plenty of carbonation.  Again, think sparkling wine carbonation levels.  A moderate and dry finish rounded out the beer nicely.  The spice note at the end helped to make this Saison extremely drinkable.


One of the things that I love about a well made Saison is it's versatility with food.  Just as a well made sparkling wine (like a Spanish Cava) will compliment most lighter fare, a crisp Saison will elevate without overpowering most dishes.  Goose Island's Sofie is the perfect bottle to keep in your beer cellar (you do have a beer cellar, right?  Here's a photo of mine.  When I'm sleeping at least.)  Serve it with a simple dish, such as orecchiette with pistachio pesto for a light summer meal.  Or try it with a heartier meal, such as hickory planked grilled pork tenderloin and dijion potatoes.  And if you're looking for something different to bring your local BYOB Thai restaurant, Sofie is definitely your girl.  In fact, take your mom out for a night on the town.  She probably deserves it. God knows mine does.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Half Acre Beer Co.'s Daisy Cutter

  • Style: Pale Ale
  • ABV: 5.2%
  • Season: Year Round
  • Color: Golden yellow with a bit of orange tint.  Rather hazy.
  • Head:  2 finger slightly off white head with amazing lacing (look at photo on left!)
  • Aroma: Pale malts, floral hops, resin with a bit of tropical fruit and grapefruit
  • Mouthfeel: Light to medium with a good amount of carbonation
  • Finish: Medium and verging towards dry
  • Food friendly: Yes.  A nice, all around sort of summer beer.  Good with salads, grilled poultry and vegetables.  Also try it with Asian food, Mexican meals or other spicy dishes.   Pair it with nutty cheeses such as Pecorino or with tangy cheeses like Munster.  

My first trip to Las Vegas was during the Spring Break of my Freshman year of college.  A friend invited me to come home with her for our week long break.  And yes, up to that point in time, I hadn't realized that people actually lived there.   You know, in neighborhoods in houses with grocery stores, little leagues, laundry mats and all.  I also learned that those grocery stores and laundry mats did have slot machines stationed by the front door, so it wasn't all Mayberry USA.  Since that trip, Ive been back a few more time and I'll admit, each day has a rush of excitement.  There is nothing like sound of hundreds of one armed bandits filling a room the size of my old high school.  And where else can you see the rhythmic dancing waters of the Bellagio trip the light fantastic just down the street from an erupting volcano and a pirate ship full of Jonny Depp look likes?  But if you want to know the honest truth, my absolute favorite thing to do in  Vegas is to take a simple stroll down the strip early in the morning.  It's quiet and clean and just crisp enough with the early morning desert air.  Sometimes it's very easy to get distracted by flash.

                                                                  You've got to love old school Vegas.  I can almost hear Frank yelling at Joey Bishop for not picking up his ring-a-ding drycleaning

There's nothing very flashy about pale ales.  The best are simple, straight forward ales, usually rather sessionable (if not strictly session beers) and often the bedrock of a brewery's line up.  They can range from a well balanced hop and malt ratio, such as Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale, to a hop fest featuring the beer equivalent of the Harlem Shake, also known as 3Floyds Zombie Dust.  But even with all it's notoriety, FFF's Zombie Dust is only 6.4% ABV and has a 60 IBU (in comparison, FFF's Dreadnaught Imperial IPA which sports an ABV of 9.5% and IBU of 99.)   Half Acre Beer's Daisy Cutter clocks in at 5.2% ABV and is believed to be around 55-60 IBUs (I couldn't find the exact measurement of IBU for this beer listed anywhere, but this seems to be the agreed upon range.)    Kind of like the Harrah's Horseshoe Casino of beers, right?

Look at that lacing.  It's like a Stratosphere in your glass.

My Half Acre Daisy Cutter poured a  delicious looking golden yellow with a minimal amount of haze.  Hints of slight orange amber appeared when held to the light.  A two finger, just barely off white, head formed and took it's sweet time settling to a thickish layer of foam for most of the drink.  Attractive rings of lacing covered the entire glass like a Belgium lace snow storm.  This beer had some of the strongest lacing that I've seen in a very long time.  I could smell the pale malts immediately, followed quickly by the note of floral hops and just a smidge of resin.  A bit of grapefruit and tropical fruit was also present,  brightening the scent.  The taste was pretty similar to the aroma.  The hops were first and foremost, with strong floral flavors hitting my tongue immediately.  But honestly, the brew is called "Daisy Cutter".   It would have been weird to have it taste like a malt bomb.  Resin flavors were also there, but to a mild extent (imagine a field of daisies with maybe one lone pine tree stuck on the edge. And the pine tree may grow a mango or two.  I did say imagine, people.)  There was a small grassy element that wasn't on the nose, but was unmistakable when on the tongue.  A light flavor of pale malts helped to bring all of the hop notes into harmony.  Underneath it all, there was a very much needed profile of grapefruit and tropical fruit (mango and possibly pineapple.)  The mouthfeel was light to almost medium, just as I prefer in my pale ales.  The finish was medium, starting with a bit of biscuit pale malts, sliding into the bitter grapefruit.  It wasn't too bitter, nor was it overly dry.  A good amount of carbonation helped to scrub away all of the floral overtones and left my mouth with just a refreshing, satisfied feeling.

Tiny bubbles, not so tiny bubbles, in my glass
I have this sudden urge to listen to Wayne Newton
 Half Acre Beer's Daisy Cutter is a wonderful pale ale to serve with summer meals.  Obviously, this would be a tasty beer to drink all on it's own, but try it with a grilled cesar salad.  Throw in some protein, like diced chicken, and you have yourself a meal.  This would also we a perfect beer to serve with ethnic food, such as Mexican or Chinese dishes.  I'm going to drink it with fish tacos and mango salsa this summer.  The beer is just light enough to work with a delicate protein, such as fish or shellfish, and the mango element in both the beer and salsa will compliment each other wonderfully.   Yes, for a pale ale, there seemed to be quite a bit going on in the glass, but much like a well run casino, just a  little bit of flash can go a long way.  We don't always need a fake tall ship filled with eyelined Jonny Depp-light pirates.  Sometimes a simple stroll down the street is exactly what you really need. A street with it's own volcano never hurts though.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Great Lakes Brewing's Dortmunder Gold Golden Lager

  • Style:  Dortmunder Export/Lager
  • ABV: 5.8%
  • Season: Year Round
  • Ease to locate: Widely available in the Midwest, NY, NJ, VA, WV, KY,  & Washington DC.  So no excuses unless you live west of the Mississippi.  
  • Color: Deeply golden with no haziness
  • Head: 2 & 1/2 fingers with wonderful retention and good lacing
  • Aroma: light notes of biscuit, toast and a bit of floral
  • Mouthfeel: Medium
  • Finish: Medium with bit of floral hops on the tail
  • Food Friendly: Is it edible?  Then yes, this beer will pair with it.  Seriously, try it with everything from poultry to beef to shellfish.  Buttery cheese, such as Havarti or Swiss would be wonderful with this beer.  As would a rich goat milk cheese like a Chevre.       

The Bavarian Purity law of 1516 states that beer must be brewed with only the natural ingredients of barley, hops, yeast and water.  As far as laws made over five hundred years ago go, this one doesn't seem all that bad (especially when you take into consideration that the United States only began to ban transfat from our foods in 2006.  Any one else remember margarine?  Margarine?  Parkay?)  When Great Lake Brewing began to produce their signature lager, Dortmunder in 1988, craft beer was just in it's teething stage (I remember when my nephew went through this period.  Everything would go in his mouth, regardless of taste.)  What's remarkable is that this lager has, by all accounts, retained it's award winning style for almost thirty years.  I can't think of many people who could claim this (although I suppose that a simple weekend stroll through certain big box stores would demonstrate that some people are still stylistically stuck in the 80's.)

                                   Here's a good guidepost for life.  If your butter-like product begins to correct your syntax, it might be time to switch to a lower ABV for the night

Dortmunder style is named after the German city of Dortmunder (those crazy Germans.)  Dortmunder was a mid-sized industral town (also a huge brewing town that would export it's brew to neighboring cities) with a bunch of thirsty factory workers.  Remember. water was not really a health drink back then, unless you enjoyed a side order of cholera with your glass.  Seven breweries in the city formed a union, named the Dortmunder Union (again, crazy, wacky Germans!) and began to brew a soft pale lager for the workers to imbibe in during the work day.   The style, known as Dortmunder Export, emerged as  soft pale lager with a higher than average amount (for a lager anyway) of carbonation and a well balanced malt character.  Dortmunder Export was one of the most popular styles of beers to be sold outside and in Germany until the 1970's when it was supplanted by Plisners.  Apparently it's slowly starting to gain an audience, thanks in no small amount to Great Lakes Brewing's efforts.

Das ist schones bier
My Dortmunder Gold golden lager poured a pure, deeply golden color with hints of amber and light brown.   It was clear without a trace of haziness.  Billowy clouds of foam raised quickly, forming an off white two and a half finger head. The retention on this head was amazing.  Large mesas of foam crested in the glass for a good portion of the drink.  Summer cloud-like sticky clumps of lacing decorated up and down the sides of the glass.  It was a pretty pint.  For all the prettiness of the brew, I found that the nose was rather light.    I could easily detect the expected grainy note, with a bit of yeasty bread under it.  A soft malt character slightly emerged as it warmed a slightly.  The end of the aroma had a floral quality, but that was as close to a hop scent that I could find.     The taste made up for the light nose.  The flavor was sweet from the grains and caramel malts, but nicely balanced by the floral hop character.  I found a hint of earthiness lurking under everything as well.    There's a sunshine brightness from citrus there as well.  A good amount of carbonation assisted in slightly drying out the malty backbone and keeping the sweetness in check.  The mouthfeel was just as expected for this sort of lager, moderate and not too dry.  A medium length finish with just a touch of hops on the end made for one satisfying beer.

Deutsch schngrend angenehm

Schugenfrued.  Fruhstuck inbegriffen.  Appetitlich.  Yeah.  I'm just throwing German words out there now.  I took Spanish in high school.  
As I've said before, I'm not much of a lager person.  But at certain point in my craft beer life, I could also say that I wasn't much of an IPA or a fruit beer sort of person either.  Like everything in life, I believe that you need to give most things a chance before you decide if it belongs in your bag of tricks or not.  And I'm more than happy to allow Great Lake's Dormunder Gold space in my mid-range, all leather, cross body bag.  Like many lagers, it's a great food beer (one of many reasons to include craft lagers into your repertoire.  For all you guys out there who may not have a mid-range, all leather cross body bag of tricks, I'm pretty sure that you at least have a repertoire.  And if you should happen to have the bag and a repertoire, this is a judge-free zone here.  Enjoy life.)  I would serve this lager with  cajun crab cakes confident with the knowledge that the sweetness of the malts would balance out any heat from the spices.  I also think that  shrimp summer rolls with Asian peanut sauce would be delicious with this brew.  But don't save it for just the main meal.  Try it with appetizers such as this strawberry goat cheese bruschetta or any other sweet/savory app that would compliment this sweet/savory lager.  And remember to raise you glass in thanks to those crazy, wacky, midday drinking Germans.   

Monday, May 6, 2013

Pipeworks Brewing Company's Poivre Noir

  • Style: Dark Saison
  • ABV: 7.50%
  • Season: Limited (although my batch was #30, I've seen this particular brew on the shelf at my local Binny's for a while)
  • Ease to locate: Here's a link to the Chicago area stores that carry Pipeworks.  Call first to find out what they have in stock
  • Color: Dark brown with red tints
  • Head: 2 finger head with light lacing
  • Aroma: Citrus (lemon predominately) with back pepper and a boozy, almost wine like, scent
  • Mouthfeel: Medium with a good amount of carbonation
  • Finish: Shortish and dry
  • Food friendly: Yes.  Lighter food that still have a bit of heft.  Poultry and shellfish come to mind.  Serve it with a wide variety of cheeses: nutty (Colby), earthy (Fontina) and pungent (Gorgonzola)

Dark Saisons are new to me.  I'll be honest, I wasn't even aware that there was such a thing until I picked up a bottle of Pipeworks Poivre Noir.  And before I opened it, I couldn't understand WHY there was such a thing.  I'm used to my Saison pouring a slightly hazy, lemony yellow liquid. If a Saison is like a fresh spring day in the country, then a Dark Saison would be it's rainy, dank counterpart (not bad day through as long as you have a warm barn or four star inn to stay in I suppose.)  A Dark Saison can be colored any where from a light reddish brown to a deep brownish purple color.  As far ar as I can tell, Dark Saisons usually achieve this hue by either brewing with chocolate malts or a unusual (for a Saison) wheat, such as Midnight wheat.  They often have a nutty and roasted flavor profile (again, two notes not usually associated with a Saison.)     And the result?  Well, it is a bit disconcerting to pour out a dark brown liquid from a Farmhouse ale bottle.   Like dogs and cats living together sort of disconcerting. 

                                                                                                       Evil spirits in your beer cellar?  Who you  gonna call? 

One of the best qualities about Saison as a style is it's ability to play well with others.  Pipeworks did a series of three brews, experimenting with the idea of what a Saison/Farmhouse ale could be.   The common element in the miniseries was the use of various peppercorns in the basic Saison recipe.   Of course, cleverly connecting them was also the use of the word "Poivre" in the name of the beer ("Poivre" means "pepper" in French, so chicken or the egg to you Pipeworks.)  Most Saisons have an element of spice in them, but balance it out with an earthy set of notes.  Pipeworks upped the spice/pepper element to the foreground and downplayed the earthy quality. Poivre Noir is the only bottle from the series that I was able to try. It would have made for an interesting experiment to do a tasting of a proven exceptional Sasion (like DuPoint) along with the three Pipeworks in the Poivre series.  If you get a chance to try this, don't tell me and rub it in.  Salt in the wounds and all. 

Yeah, it's the Anikin Skywalker of Saisons

My Pipeworks Brewing Co's Poivre Noir Dark Saison poured a dark, cola brown with hints of maroon and purpley red.  A light beige, two finger head rose quickly and slowly settled to a filmy, shallow layer for the rest of the drink.  The beer had decent lacing, not spectacular, but moderately good retention with lovely bits here and there sticking to the sides of the pint.  I could smell the citrus immediately, strong freshly squeezed lemon notes reassured me that even though the beer in my glass didn't look like a Sasion, it was essentially still a Saison.  The next note that hit me was that of ground peppercorns, spicy and culinary mouthwatering.  Ordinarily the aroma of a Saisons is light and refreshing, this one just smelled heavy and substantial.  There was a boozy, almost wine-like, aroma just under the citrus and spice.  This dark, wine-like quality manifested itself in the taste as a dark fruit note, but not overwhelmingly so.  I found that it balanced the lemon and pepper characteristics very well and added an interesting twist.  Many Dark Saisons have a nuttiness to them that I didn't find in this beer, but I think that this dark fruit note worked just as well with the overall flavor profile.  Pipeworks lists Sorachi Hops on their label as an indigent and again, another interesting choice for this beer.  Sorachi hops are a relatively new variety of hops (unless you're under 25 and then they are considered ancient like land line phones and postage stamps.)  They are heavy with lemon flavors, yet still have slight notes of dill, cilantro and coconut.  Rather Asian inspired, right? (Note: I later discovered that they were first bred in Japan, so take that, Mr. Roboto.)  The mouthfeel was medium with a welcomed amount of pallet cleaning carbonation.  The finish,, while it was short, was also dry and crisp. 

Not much lacing action, but still a nice head on it's shoulders
Ignore the Guinness logo.  At least it's not a red solo cup
Saisons are one of the most food friendly craft beers available.  There was a time, often referred to as the "Dark Ages", when it was nearly impossible to find a decent Saison in your local craft beer section.  It was also the disconsolate period when boy bands reigned supreme and cargo pants covered the landscape.   Anyway...Now, we have choices upon choices (insert heavenly chorus here.)  I'd serve Pipeworks Brewing Co.'s Poivre Noir Dark Saison with chicken in lemon sauce, easy and breezy, rounding it out with some garlic green beans and crusty bread.  I think that it could also work well with shellfish.  Try pouring this Dark Saison with steamed mussels and clams with two sauces.   Don't be afraid to experiment with pairings.  Tap into your inner Pipeworks and try something unexpected.

And come over to the dark side.  We have beer.